Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 

It was the most successful environmental lobby day in Louisiana history! Over fifty citizen activists were in attendance for the release of the Environmental Briefing Book (www.labriefingbook.org) which each activist was to deliver to their Legislator. The book was prepared by “a coalition of groups and individuals who are passionate about providing good air to breathe, protecting our rights to clean sweet water to drink, and advocating for the rights of all of us to live in healthy sustainable communities.”

A few of the priorities for Lobby day were to educate our representatives about protecting the coast, re-fund the enforcement division of the Department of Environmental Quality, and support the fuel efficiency standards for state vehicles bill. The coalition of Louisiana’s best environmental groups is also asking the Legislature for a Green Caucus. The Legislature needs a Green Caucus that is funded and staffed to handle environmental legislation that will benefit the economy, protect Louisiana’s natural heritage, and safeguard the public health of our citizens from preventable exposure to health risks.

Though the Legislative schedule for our Lobby Day was not ideal, it gave many citizens from across the state an opportunity to see how laws are made. Every citizen activist wore their Environmental Voter pin and got the opportunity to see their government in action. It is important to remember that each citizen has the right to be heard!

 

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.

 

A disgusting odor has been permeating the city of Hattiesburg, MS lately. For awhile, the city public works department claimed it didn't know the cause, but most everyone who smelled it knew that it smelled a lot like sewage. It turns out that the city's sewage lagoons are to blame.

There is more to the story, though. The lagoons, which are a very basic type of sewage treatment most commonly used by very small towns, are in violation of the Clean Water Act, polluting the nearby Leaf and Bowie Rivers. Sewage lagoons are basically a series of ponds which, under ideal circumstances, treat sewage using bacteria that live in the ponds. The Hattiesburg lagoons are truly massive as you can see from the satellite photo I included (the four polygons make up the south lagoon). In fact, by my estimate, the total size of the lagoon is about 330 acres, or roughly half a square mile.

As I argue in the letter I wrote in the Hattiesburg American, the city has not properly planned for growth and is sticking with its outdated sewage treatment lagoons rather than upgrading them to a modern treatment system. Why is this important? What Hattiesburg puts into the Leaf River, ultimately flows into the Pascagoula River and the Gulf of Mexico. In order to protect the Gulf of Mexico, we have to look upstream.

If you live in Hattiesburg, it is time to let your local leaders know they need to do better and should start by raising the money to replace the smelly lagoons. In the meantime, if you use the Leaf or Bowie Rivers, you may want to think twice about swimming or fishing near where the lagoons empty into the rivers.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources.

 
New Orleans native, and creator of the most famous Play-Doh figure this side of Gumby, Walter Williams is a documentary filmmaker, frequent GRN collaborator, and perhaps best known for Mr. Bill of classic Saturday Night Live fame. Walter and GRN worked together on our "Hear The Music" campaign targeting Shell at Jazzfest. Here's Walter's post from the fest:

The final Sunday of the last weekend of Jazzfest 08, as sunset approached on a beautiful day, our native sons the Neville Brothers returned home to perform for the first time since Katrina.

Suddenly, up in the air…is it a bird? Is it a plane? Yes, actually it is and towing a banner reading “Shell Hear The Music Fix The Coast U Broke.” I heard many exclaim, “I don’t think that’s supposed to be there.” Thanks to the Gulf Restoration Network, who did a similar Shell protest two years ago, for taking my idea seriously and financing it, there it was. And thanks to Tab Benoit and his Voice of the Wetlands organization, it stayed up an additional hour and closed out one of the most beautiful closing days in memory.
The T-shirts were a big hit also. Two girls at the ticket booth wanted them and wore them and you could spot people all around making it feel like the official theme of the Fest.

Once again, before any feels too sorry for Shell, saying they provide jobs and pay taxes. Well, all of the real jobs have moved to Houston and they’ve been using that line for decades and getting away with it. Now people are starting to wake up to the reality that Shell and the other oil companies involved in southern Louisiana have made us vulnerable to total destruction every summer and fall by eating away our natural defense; coastal wetlands.

And besides, before Shell took over it cost about 25 bucks to get into the Jazz Fest...I paid 50 on Sunday. I guess they are passing on the cost of all of those Shell flags to the customer. Please present the idea of the oil industry paying to restore our coast to your representatives and let them know that rebuilding our coast is a national issue.

Thanks to Michael Sustendal for taking the picture of me when we bumped into each other and for Alycia Daumas for taking the close up from her house. I think the whole event was awesome and everyone’s talking about it.

Keep hope alive,

Walter

 

Throughout the month of April, Aveda salons across the Southeast have been busy raising money for the GRN. The funds raised will support our work to protect clean water. Please visit your local Aveda salon and thank them for their hard work and commitment to a healthy Gulf.

These are just a few photos from the hundreds of events that were held across the region:

Joe Murphy of the GRN joins staff from the Aveda Institute St. Petersburg, Florida for a beach clean up.

Staff from the W. Daly Salon and Spa in Newman, Georgia
donated their time for Cut-A-Thon. The event raised $2000 in just one day!

Jessica Netto of the GRN joins staff from the Avalon salon group in Dallas. Avalon salon held a crawfish boil and silent auction that raised over $5000 in one day!

Gary Lambert's Salon and Spa of Winter Park, Florida hosted a 'Brunch of Clean Water' and silent auction that raised over $6000 for the GRN.

Carol Lociano of Drew James Salon in Ft. Lauderdale, hosted a table at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Science and Discovery's Earth Day event. They gave out blue water beads to children who committed to saving water by turning off the faucet as they wash their hands or brush their teeth.

This is the third year that Aveda distributors, the Neill Corporation and The Salon People and their salons have chosen the GRN as their Earth Month partner. We're honored that so many people are willing to donate their time and money for the GRN. Aveda is a unique company that not only talks about protecting our environment, but takes every step they can to live by their commitment.

Thanks Aveda!

Briana Kerstein is the Director of Organizational Development

 

Heading to Jazz Fest today? If you're there or in the neighborhood, keep an eye on the sky and check out our message to Shell, the sponsor of the event. We're going to have a plane flying a banner over the festivities, reading: Shell, hear the music. Fix the coast you broke!

As you well know, Louisiana loses a football field worth of vital coastal wetlands every 45 minutes. Did you know that Shell takes in about $2.3 million in profit in the same amount of time?

The current estimate of the cost to fix our coast and secure our communities is $50 billion, but taxpayers can't and shouldn't shoulder that burden alone. Coastal scientists estimate that oil companies have caused 40-60% of the coastal land loss Louisiana is experiencing, so we're asking them to be a part of the solution.

While all the oil companies that have operated in the Louisiana coast have contributed to the problem, Shell has publicly expressed concern over the future of our coast, going so far as to help fund a public relations campaign to tell the rest of the country about our coastal crisis. Unfortunately, that PR effort fails to mention the oil companies' role in the devastating wetland loss we're experiencing. Louisiana needs a lot more than music right now, so help us tell Shell to put their money where their mouth is and fix the problem they played a part in creating:

http://action.healthygulf.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24446

We'll be outside the Sauvage Street Pedestrian Entrance Sunday morning as the Fest opens up, interviewing Fest goers about oil companies and their accountability for our coast for a documentary short we're putting together. Stop by and share your views with us and pick up some flyers and a free t-shirt to help spread the message.

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Aaron

Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director

 

The Dogwood Alliance, an amazing organization that works to hold corporations accountable for the impact of their industrial forestry practices on the forests and communities of the South, is launching a new campaign. Read more in the following blog post from Dogwood's Organizing Director, Eva Hernandez.

DOGWOOD KICKS OFF NEW CAMPAIGN AND WEBSITE

Check out the new campaign website: www.nofreerefills.org!

Will you help us kick off the national Fast Food Packaging Campaign? The Southern US is the largest paper producing region in the world. Packaging is the #1 paper product from our forests, led by the fast food industry.

Will you send a message to the fast food CEO's having the biggest impact on our forests? Click here to send your message.

While you're there you can let the CEO's know that they should a) use more post-consumer recycled paper; b) use less; and c) stop using paper for packaging from endangered forests.

We have been on the road the last couple of weeks holding press conferences and community meetings to let kickoff the campaign. We've met some great people, gotten some good media, taken some great photos and videos, and worked with awesome volunteers. No matter where we are, one thing always rings true-Southern forests are too important to be wasted for fast food packaging.

You can tell the biggest Fast Food chains to stop buying their packaging from Southern forests. We identified the top offenders and they are... Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silvers, Pizza Hut, A&W, McDonalds, Wendy's, Quiznos, Jack in the Box, and Bojangles.

Tell the 11 Fast Food Junky CEO's to stop trashing Southern forests for chicken buckets, burger boxes and to-go containers.

Click here to send your message today!

While you're there you can check out the new website and find more info about the campaign, including a downloadable report linking the top offenders to Southern forest destruction at www.nofreerefills.org.

Why fast food? Because Southern forests are too important to be wasted for fast food packaging.


Bret at the Big Chicken · Fast Food Chains are buying packaging from Southern forests
· 15% of landfill waste is fast food packaging
· The average American throws out 300 lbs. of packaging waste every year

Our fast food lifestyle is burying us in an avalanche of excessive packaging and waste. Every year millions of pounds of food packaging waste litter our roadways, clog our landfills and spoil our quality of life.

Southern forests, the jewel of the American landscape, are being destroyed to bring you fried chicken, burgers and fries, and super-sized convenience in a glut of wrappers, boxes and cups. Simple choices and creative solutions can reduce the excess and destruction while still allowing us to enjoy the level of convenience we have come to expect.

Join Dogwood Alliance in challenging corporations to change their habits. Our forests are too important to be wasted for disposable packaging. With nearly 100 paper packaging mills in the South, the packaging decisions of these corporations have a tremendous impact on our forests.

Take action today!

http://www.democracyinaction.org/da/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24343&t=nofreerefillsAction.dwt

For the forests,

Eva Hernandez
Organizing Director
Dogwood Alliance

 

On Thursday, April 17 we loaded fourteen of us into a van and a car and drove up to Vicksburg for a hearing on the Yazoo Pumps project. Vicksburg is a 3.5 hour drive from New Orleans, so we were prepared for a long day, though I don’t think any of us expected it to be as long as it was.

The public hearing started at 7pm at the Vicksburg Convention Center. As our group sat down, one of our members was tapped on the shoulder by a pumps proponent and told that she wasn’t welcome at the hearing and should leave! It’s that kind of attempted intimidation by proponents that has kept more locals from speaking out against this project.

The EPA kicked off the hearing with a brief presentation on why the Yazoo Pumps project is so damaging, followed by a representative from the Corps who tried to convince everyone the project is sound by using some fuzzy logic. Then it was on to the elected officials.

Governor Haley Barbour’s representative made a comment that people from outside of the Delta region should not be influencing the process because locals wanted the project built. However, if the project were built, those of us living downstream would have to deal with the impacts of losing wetlands that store flood waters and filter water pollutants such as fertilizer and pesticides. It’s also troubling to hear that Mr. Barbour believes that outsiders should not have a say on a in this project given that Mississippi politicians lobbied to get the entire cost of the project paid for by federal taxpayers.

The best part of the hearing was the great diversity of people opposed to the pumps. By my count, 34 people testified in opposition to the pumps, including students, scientists, social justice groups, representatives from hunting and fishing groups, environmental groups, land trusts, and many local citizens who understand that what the Delta needs is better education, infrastructure, and health care, not a pork project that will only benefit a small number of landowners. Attending the hearing was well worth the long drive we had back home, arriving in New Orleans well after 3 am.

The Yazoo Pumps is one of the most wasteful, environmentally destructive taxpayer-funded projects ever conceived. Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt called it the "most cockamamie" project that he had ever heard of. A retired head of the EPA wetlands division recently said, “over my 24 years at the EPA, I never reviewed a project that would do more damage than the Yazoo Pumps project.” There are various estimates of how many acres of wetlands the project would drain which range from 67,000 to over 200,000. No matter which estimate you believe, the destruction would be massive.

Now it’s your turn. If you haven’t sent a comment to the EPA in support of a veto, please do so now by clicking here. Help us achieve what could be one of the most pro-environment decisions to come out of EPA in a long time.

Dump the Pumps!

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources for the Gulf Restoration Network

 

I just got back from a public hearing on the Richton Salt Domes project on April 10, and the turnout was incredible. Somewhere between 250 and 300 Mississippi coast residents turned out to speak out against this destructive pork project. There were landowners, fishermen, industrialists, scientists, environmentalists, and many more people who wouldn’t fit into any category, but are concerned with the proposed project nonetheless.

In early 2007, the DOE made final its plans to store 160 million barrels of oil in Richton, an amount equivalent to roughly two weeks of U.S. oil consumption. In order to create a storage cavern, the DOE would hollow-out salt domes by dissolving them with fifty million gallons a day of fresh water from the Pascagoula River. The hyper-saline solution would then be discharged four miles south of Horn Island in the Mississippi Gulf, creating a dead zone where most sea life could not survive the low-oxygen, salty conditions. In addition, the project would rely upon 330 miles of pipeline to transport oil, water, and brine, and the DOE’s acknowledges that there will be numerous spills. Their own projections predict that there would be 56 brine spills that could harm the PascagoulaRiver, its tributaries, and connected wetlands.

There were a number of great speakers who gave public comments, though, for me, the most inspiring speaker on Thursday night was an 80 year-old retired school teacher from Biloxi who skipped celebrating her birthday because she said the public hearing was more important. There was not a single person there who spoke in favor of the salt domes project. After the impressive turnout, I hope the DOE and the politicians such as Governor Barbour who have pushed this project are starting to get the message. This movement to save the Pascagoula is only growing.

You can check out some photos the Sun Herald took here.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources.

 


On April 1st Tulane’s Environmental Action League joined thousands of people around the world in a day of protest against the fossil fuel industry. Fossil Fools Day, organized by the Energy Action Coalition and a number of other international environmental groups, boasted protests, acts of civil disobedience, green job rallies, and a ton of media hits.

In comparison to the people that blockaded the entrance to the Citibank Headquarters in New York, our event was relatively low-key (and incarceration free). We organized a photo petition to protest Entergy’s proposed Little Gypsy refitting, a project that will convert a natural gas-burning plant to a coal and petroleum-coke burning plant. Our petition focused on Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard’s comment regarding global warming that “Mankind is headed toward a crisis of Biblical proportions.” People passing by our table on campus could pose with his handsome mug, telling Leonard to “stop talking out both sides of your mouth” and not refit Little Gypsy.


Of those that dared to approach and find out why we had a man’s face plastered to a wall, the majority were shocked to hear about the refitting. The general consensus was that coal is a fuel of the past and something that we should be moving away from, not toward. Not many people in Louisiana expect to hear glowing stories of green, clean energy, but for a state that’s on the front lines of global warming, a switch to coal seems like a bit much this late in the game. The potential consequences of the refitting (increased greenhouse gas emissions, more mercury in our waters, and a hefty price tag that the rate payers will probably be saddled with), made most people eager to snap a photo with the Entergy CEO. Overall, the event was a success, and we got a lot of great pictures to send to Mr. Leonard.

The majority of the people we talked to were students. It seems fitting that my generation have a loud voice in current energy choices. While everyone will suffer from the most immediate impacts of coal burning, such as air and water pollution and the potential financial repercussions of a carbon tax, it will be us and our children that will bear the brunt of the consequences of fossil foolery.

Laney White is a Tulane Junior and a GRN intern working on Global Warming

 

A quick update from Charlotte, NC for everyone. Yesterday, about 20 activists and I demonstrated outside the Lowe's Corporate Headquarters with banners and fliers calling on Lowe's to live up to their corporate environmental policies by no longer selling unsustainable cypress mulch. We wanted to make sure Lowe's employees knew about the destruction their company is causing and feel the pressure to stop! And we decided to have a little fun with it too by bringing along all the fixins for a crawfish boil (crawfish and crawfishermen love the cypress swamps). It was a great success. Check out more photos on flickr.

Thanks to everyone who came out to Save Our Cypress!

There were newspaper folks, cops, Lowe's security, and lots of Lowe's employees (unfortunately no one took us up on our offer for free crawfish). The HQ is a giant compound complete with guard booth and all, so we were situated at the end of the driveway (on public property) so that everyone leaving work from Lowe's could see us. We handed out hundreds of fliers and you couldn't miss our banners. The message was clear- Lowe's is violating its own corporate rulebook by continuing to sell unsustainable cypress mulch.
All those buildings on the horizon are the compound! Look at the cars who can't ignore us.


A small group of us attempted to peacefully enter the compound in order to deliver thousands of petition postcards to Lowe's. Despite representing thousands of people, from radical students to suburban gardeners, we were turned away at the gate. I'm determined to deliver them before I go home though! You can help get the message directly to Lowe's by picking up your phone and making a call right now. The phone number and talking points are available at http://action.healthygulf.org/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=490.

Many thanks to Josh and his huge crew from Guilford University for making the drive. Thanks to John and the UNC-Charlotte Earth Club for everything (including housing me for the last couple days).And much appreciation to Shannon for all the great photos!

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network, a proud member of the Save Our Cypress Coalition.

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